The name of the monastery already raises some questions. "Vanis" (ვანის) is the genitive case from the word "vani", which is usually understood as a toponym. Here we have an informational gap: we do not know what Vanya is and where it disappeared. Maybe it's even someone's name. Further - "kvabebi" (ქვაბები, plural of ქვაბი). Now this word is called a saucepan, boiler, boiler - everything in which you can cook food. But historically, the application of this word to the designation of caves is recorded. Someone may be confused by the similar word "kwa" (stone), but here it is precisely "kvabi" that has nothing to do with stones. This whole question requires some additional study.
There are many unclear things about the history of the monastery. It is believed that the first buildings appeared here already in the 8th century. In the 9th-11th centuries, the cave complex expanded. In those years, Vardzia did not exist yet, and perhaps the Ananaur Church already existed and a cave settlement near it could already be.
In 1089, an earthquake struck, due to which the central part of the complex collapsed. In 1186 - 1191 the patron of the monastery was the Gurgenisdze family, at this time the monastery was renovated - in particular, the Cathedral of St. George was restored. In 1204, a large stone wall was built. In 1283, the same earthquake struck that destroyed Vardzia and the Tmogvi castle. Vanis-Kvabebi was also seriously injured.
Now it is a men's monastery, but they write that in the past it was a women's monastery. Somewhere on its walls, even inscriptions were found, presumably the authorship of nuns dissatisfied with their fate.
The monastery looks like an amphitheater with a very steep slope - almost vertical. From the main road, you need to climb a steep serpentine benton, and the monastery will appear in front of you as if in three parts - right, central and left. All three parts are fenced off by a stone wall, of which there is now a small part, a meter or two in height. Some local historians suggest that this is a megalithic structure and, therefore, was built somewhere else in the Bronze Age
The left side of the complex is inhabited - down there is a small modern church, and next to it are stone monks' cells. You can also see some boards, wires and other signs of life.
The right side of the complex is completely uninhabited and more difficult to get there. There are several galleries cut out in tuff breccia. Tuff breccia is a compacted volcanic tuff and slag. Neighboring Vardzia is cut in limestone (although they often write about tuff breccia), so the rooms there are smoother and more neat. Tuff breccia cannot be leveled, so everything in Vanis-Kvabebi is very uneven and clumsy. This is the main difference between the two monasteries.
The central part is the most interesting. These are several tiers of caves, and a small chapel on the upper tier. On the lower tiers there are just several large rooms and here and there ruins of wine storage facilities.
Usually a visit to Vanis-Kvabebi is reduced to ascent to the chapel. But the most historically valuable thing here is not the chapel, but the large (in the past) temple of St. George. It is located almost at the very bottom of the central caves. All that remained of the temple was a flat platform, a concha (upper part) of the apse and something that makes it possible to think that the temple had a dome carved from the inside into the rock. Moreover, this carved dome imitated a dome on sails, that is, it was built later than the 8th century. (Sails is a late architectural invention)
Alas, now we see only debris. Probably, in the past, the eastern part of the temple was carved into the rock (together with the dome), and the western one was built of stone. Now almost everything has collapsed.
To the left of the temple, there is a stone path that leads us to a complex system of holes through which you can climb the stairs to the upper tiers. This is about the same experience as the ascent from the Vardzi temple to the upper tier, but here everything is more complicated, dusty and tiring. After making your way through many holes, you end up on the upper tier to a small, fully preserved temple-chapel
Everywhere in the literature, this building is called a temple, although it is essentially a small chapel. It is smoothly plastered from the inside, and some trash has already painted it with inscriptions.
In good weather, you can sit here for a long time and look at the canyon. For some reason, Vardzia does not give such a meditative effect.
How to get there
Vanis-Kvabebi is located on the eastern bank of the Kura River, between Tmogvi Castle and Vardzia Monastery, closer to Tmogvi. If you are driving from Khertvisi to Vardzia, then you need to pass the village of Nokalakevi, see Tmogvi on the right on the rocks, and after about a kilometer there will be a left turn upward and a marker. The ascent to the monastery is concrete and very steep, but cars overpower.
An important nuance. The monastery faces west, so it is in the shade in the morning and in the sun in the evening. So if you spend a den on exploring the surroundings, then you need to spend the morning on Vardzia, and the evening on Vanis-Kvabebi.